The 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi produced a lot of stories and experiences. Medals were won, triumphs were documented, and trials were encountered along the way. The main focus on the games was on the athletes who competed. They’re the reason we all descended upon this southern Russia resort.
My Olympic experience is unique in a lot of ways. Sochi not only marked my first time covering the Olympic Games, it was also my first time traveling abroad. These Olympic Winter Games also marked my first months covering winter sports in any capacity.
It is really cool that the United States Olympic Committee and Alan Abrahamson (my professor at University of Southern California and longtime Olympic beat writer) gave me an opportunity to cover this event. A lot of folks worked behind the scenes to get Kimiya Shokoohi and I ready to roll once we arrived here from the USC.
But I thought about all the steps I needed to take to make the most of my time in Sochi. After all, I remember what it was like to not be into basketball or football, the two sports I spend most of time time covering now. Granted, I was only 8 the last time I could truly say I knew nothing about basketball. The process to get to understanding was intense, yet fun. I found myself undergoing a similar process in my Sochi preparation.
The main thing I did was get to the point where I knew all of the Olympic sports. There are 15 of them. Some are well-known: ice hockey, figure skating. But what is luge? What are these new snowboarding events? What’s the difference between long track and short track speedskating? What’s a “Nordic combined”? Why would anyone slide head first down an icy track?
Once I figured out the basics of each sport, I had to learn the history, and then catch up on the current standings and latest news in each one. I watched a lot of videos online, both of past Olympic contests as well as world cup performances. I’ve never seen a lot of these sports in action, so getting to see what these athletes are capable of really puts things in perspective.
Finally, the U.S. announced its massive athlete delegation for Sochi. I made sure I saw highlights and memorized notes on all of them. After four plane rides, and all that prep, I was ready.
Getting to Sochi, I was concerned about the “Sochi Problem” everyone was hearing about, specifically the ones related to lodging. Fortunately, I escaped any issues there. Of course, I also didn’t spend much time in the hotel. Eat, sleep, freshen up, and that’s about it.
My first day in Sochi was spent covering the men’s halfpipe snowboarding pre-competition press conference. That was for my first of what turned out to be six previews for USA Daily (in addition to snowboarding, I worked on biathlon, luge, Nordic combined, freestyle skiing and skeleton). Writing while jet-lagged is a real thing - but getting the first out the way was a great way to cover everything.
Slopestyle snowboarding, one of the 12 new events, marked the first Olympic event I ever covered. It also meant that it was my first voyage to the mountain cluster, which required three buses. The media transportation in Sochi was another one of my concerns. But I quickly found that if you knew which bus you were supposed to be on, then traveling was time-consuming yet simple.
Witnessing two American gold medalists my first weekend here was a blast. The excitement of Sage Kotsenburg’s gold-medal run was exceeded only by his post-competition press conference, which was filled with some priceless quotes. Jamie Anderson followed it up with her own gold medal the next day.
I set a goal for myself here to at least see every sport once. I missed my goal by three sports, as I didn’t make it to ski jumping, cross-country skiing, or Nordic combined. The RusSki Gorki Jumping Center was the only venue I failed to make it to. But I had a moment to capture from the other 12 sports and the other nine venues:
-Rosa Khutor Extreme Park was where most of my time was spent at these Games, and I wrote medal stories on Anderson, Devin Logan and Alex Deibold.
-I witnessed Mikaela Shiffrin’s first slalom run at Rosa Khutor Alpine Center.
-I did make it to Laura Cross-Country Ski & Biathlon Center, via gondola … by far my most extreme travel to a sporting event, especially after midnight.
-The Sanki Sliding Center is where I’ll remember my toughest moments in Sochi, covering my last two events before sitting out due to an illness.
-The Ice Cube Curling Center is where I finally learned curling, as explained to me by a press manager who spent hours watching the sport.
-The Dutch dominated Adler Arena, which put a damper on the opportunity to meet American speedskater Shani Davis.
-The Iceberg Skating Palace doubled as a figure skating venue and the short track arena. Short track gets loud during competition, but figure skating generated a significant amount of emotion, especially before and after Russian performances.
-Shayba Arena was where I watched my first ice hockey game ever — or my first part of a game, as I saw the first period of the first matchup between the women of the United States and Canada.
-And the Bolshoy Ice Dome is where I saw the craziest hockey game ever, when Canada’s women earned gold and the United States settled for silver.
I made a lot of connections at these venues, both with journalists who came here to do the same thing I was here to do, as well as the many volunteers who served as human arrows and communications managers. Sochi really turned into an athletic bubble, a small world where competition kept everyone on the same wire. In many ways, navigating these Olympic Winter Games was like being in a RPG-type video game, in which getting by was simple but the bonuses that come with extra interactions would be the real highlight.
That isn’t to say that getting through these past few weeks has been easy. It has been a challenging exercise of daily coverage, with unfamiliar territory and language presenting a persistent factor in every action. But I am very happy about what I was able to contribute here. As the Closing Ceremony approaches and Sochi, Russia, passes the winter Olympic baton to Pyeongchang, South Korea, I’ll always appreciate what has been a real eye-opening experience in international communication, both in sports and otherwise.